Crazy hazy lazy days of sum­mer

YMCA sum­mer pro­gram is any­thing but lazy

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By DENAE SPIERING dspier­ing@ches­pub.com

EAS­TON — The lazy days of sum­mer are here but not at the Eas­ton Fam­ily YMCA’s Camp Lazy Days Pro­gram.

Camp Lazy Days is in its 27th year and pro­vides a sum­mer camp pro­gram for chil­dren with a range of spe­cial needs.

The ma­jor­ity of the camp’s ac­tiv­i­ties are held at Eas­ton Mid­dle School on Peach­blos­sum Road.

“We pro­vide a va­ri­ety of camp ac­tiv­i­ties for any child that has been iden­ti­fied as spe­cial needs,” said Derek White, di­rec­tor of the Eas­ton Fam­ily YMCA. “We have kids that are para­plegic, we have kids that are on the wide spec­trum of autism and some with down syn­drome.”

The campers do not ac­tu­ally have a chance to be lazy with two to three field trips per week, which in­clude trips to the movies, boat rides on the Pa­triot in St. Michaels, reg­u­lar trips to the park, and the Gooch and in­door play struc­ture at the YMCA. Just last week, the campers went to Jun­gle Jims, a wa­ter­park in Re­hoboth, Del.

When the kids are not out and about, they are work­ing on crafts or play­ing games in the gym. Ever y af­ter­noon, the chil­dren also go across the street to the YMCA for an hour of swim­ming.

Chil­dren from ages 5 through 21 are el­i­gi­ble to join the five-week pro­gram. This year’s pro­gram be­gan Mon­day, June 19, and will run through Fri­day, July 21.

This year, the camp has 65 par­tic­i­pants. White said the camp has ser­viced any­where from 40 to al­most 90 kids a year through part­ner­ships with many dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Cur­rently, Tal­bot County Pub­lic Schools is the YMCA’s sole part­ner for the pro­gram. The school dis­trict pro­vides a space and the trans­porta­tion for the pro­gram.

In ad­di­tion, many of the staff mem­bers of Camp Lazy Days are TCPS teach­ers.

“A lot of these kids are work­ing with teach­ers that they work with through­out the school year,” White said. “We also have the abil­ity to hire col­lege stu­dents who may have in in­ter­est or may be on an ed­u­ca­tional path to help­ing chil­dren with spe­cial needs.”

“We have a lot of chil­dren with all dif­fer­ent needs, so the fact that they are with peo­ple who un­der­stand what is go­ing on with them is ex­tremely ben­e­fi­cial,” said Court­ney Wil­loughby, as­sis­tant camp di­rec­tor.

Re­gen Linn of Kent Is­land said her 8-year-old daugh­ter, Jayce, has been at­tend­ing the camp for four years.

“She re­ally en­joys it. It is a great pro­gram,” Linn said. “She loves it here.”

She said the ac­com­mo­da­tions the pro­gram makes for each child are re­mark­able. Jayce has op­po­si­tional de­fi­ance dis­or­der, mood dis­or­der and at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der.

“They deal with such a very broad range of is­sues,” Linn said. “They are very ac­com­mo­dat­ing for ev­ery­one. I am very grate­ful for that.”

She said her daugh­ter is able to be her­self at camp.

“She looks for­ward to it ev­ery year,” Linn said. “She is al­ways su­per ex­cited.”

Camp Lazy Days not only pro­vides knowl­edge­able and fa­mil­iar staff mem­bers, but they em­ploy an ex­ten­sive staff, as well. This en­ables the camp to have a one-on-one ap­proach for the chil­dren.

“Hav­ing that one-on-one coun­selors/stu­dent re­la­tion­ship is what they need — that and the group set­tings for so­cial­iz­ing,” Wil­loughby said. “It is hav­ing the right peo­ple with them in the best sit­u­a­tions.”

It is that one-on-one ap­proach that par­ents of campers love.

“A reg­u­lar camp wouldn’t un­der­stand that my son may need quiet time,” said Eu­gena Cald­well of Eas­ton. “They wouldn’t have the one-on-one with camp coun­selors that they have here.”

Cald­well said her son, Aaron Cald­well, is 12 years old and has been com­ing to Camp Lazy Days for five years and re­fuses to miss even one day.

“He loves it. He tells ev­ery­one about the ac­tiv­i­ties he does,” Cald­well said. “He will not stop talk­ing about the wa­ter­park.”

Cald­well said Aaron also en­joys be­ing with his friends at the camp.

“With autism, it is hard for kids to so­cial­ize,” Cald­well said. “So the camp gives him an op­por­tu­nity to so­cial­ize, and to play and to be with peers.”

White said the most im­por­tant thing he wants ev­ery­one to know about Lazy Day Camp is that ev­ery child should have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence camp.

“It is im­por­tant for these kids to get to do the things they do here,” White said. “We pro­vide tra­di­tional camp ac­tiv­i­ties, field trips, swim­ming, so­cial­iza­tion and much-needed respite for their par­ents.”

Re­cently, the camp went to Jun­gle Jim’s Wa­ter­park in Re­hoboth, and Cald­well said her son will not stop talk­ing about his trip.

All three par­ents agreed the camp also pro­vides a much-needed respite for them.

“It gives me a break. I am a school teacher, so this gives me a break for the sum­mer, too,” Cald­well said.

Respite is im­por­tant for par­ents who have spe­cial needs chil­dren and so is peace of mind, Linn said.

“I feel like she is safe here,” Linn said. “I feel like no mat­ter what hap­pens, they are go­ing to take care of what needs to be taken care of.”

“It’s nice to have that es­pe­cially when you are deal­ing with chil­dren who might need a lit­tle ex­tra at­ten­tion,” Linn said. “It is nice to have that peace of mind.”

Julie Atwell of Eas­ton said her son Trevor, who is 14, started the camp when he was 5 years old, mak­ing this his ninth year in the pro­gram.

“The camp re­ally pro­vides respite time for par­ents, or it helps to fill in that gap for par­ents when af­ford­ing child care for spe­cial need kids can be very dif­fi­cult,” Atwell said. “They do great things with the kids and take them on trips that they might not oth­er­wise be able to do, and the kids love it.”

Trevor is non­ver­bal autis­tic, but Atwell said the thing she thinks he en­joys most is hav­ing some­where to go.

“The camp also pro­vides struc­ture and rou­tine which chil­dren with spe­cial needs re­quire,” Atwell said.

“It is that con­sis­tency in their day that is key,” Wil­loughby said. “The rou­tine of the day, from morn­ing events, to lunch, to that swim time in the af­ter­noon, the kids know what to ex­pect, and you would be re­ally sur­prised how it af­fects them when there is wrench thrown in — like if it rains in the af­ter­noon.”

The Camp Lazy Days pro­gram is 100 per­cent funded through the YMCA Strong Com­mu­ni­ties Cam­paign.

“The Strong Com­mu­ni­ties Cam­paign pays for 100 per­cent par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram,” White said. “The cam­paign also in­sures that no one is ever turned away from the Y.”

The cam­paign also helps to fund camps like the Sum­mer Learn­ing Pro­gram, and it is solely do­na­tion driven.

White said without the do­na­tions from the com­mu­nity, mem­bers and or­ga­ni­za­tions, these pro­grams would not ex­ist.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Camp Lazy Days or other camps at the YMCA, visit www.ym­cachesa­peake.org/eas­ton.

PHOTO BY DENAE SPIERING

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